The High Plains Society
Applied Anthropology


Touring Tohoku, Serving the Nation: Volunteer Tourism in Post-Disaster Japan

Rebecca Forgash

On March 11, 2011, the northeast coast of Japan suffered an earthquake of unprecedented 9.0 magnitude fol-lowed by tsunami waves that destroyed seaside hamlets and farmland in five coastal prefectures. Recovery efforts have been complicated by radiation leaks at the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Tourism – cast as both casualty of the disaster and key to post-disaster recovery – represents a key node of public discourse on the disaster. In this article, I examine the role of tourism in emergent popular understandings of the "3.11" disaster, recovery, and reconstruction. The discussion focuses on the early development of post-disaster tourism and discourses that support tourism development. Particular attention is given to the convergence of tourism and disaster recovery under the auspices of "volunteer tourism." The discussion raises critical questions about how differently positioned individuals and groups in Japan and abroad are approaching, analyzing, and developing solutions to the disaster, as well as the changing meanings and impacts of tourism in local communities.

The Applied Anthropologist, No. 1, Vol. 31, 2011, pp 30 - 36

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